Row looms as US seizes Spanish Superbowl site

The Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) team looks set to spark a diplomatic row after US government officials seized the domain of a Spanish video-streaming sports website.

ICE took down the Spanish company's US-registered site, Rojadirecta.org, after pressure from leading players in the entertainment industry.

US TV companies are believed to have been concerned that sites such as Rojadirecta could be used by American football fans worldwide to watch the upcoming Superbowl, the NFL's premier sporting fixture - robbing broadcasters of valuable revenue.

The move could threaten an international rift, because the legality of Rojadirecta's operation has already been tested in the Spanish courts.

After a three-year legal battle, the country's court of appeal recently upheld a lower court's ruling that because it doesn't actually host any content, but merely streams it, the site does not infringe copyright law.

The controversial seizure comes at an especially difficult time for US-Spanish relations. As tech blog BoingBoing recently reported, a secret US diplomatic cable leaked by whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks prompted outcry in Spain after it revealed that Hollywood executives had helped to pen tough new copyright laws that the US is attempting to force on Spanish legislators.

But draconian as the new laws may be, they haven't come quickly enough for ICE boss John Morton and the organisation's IP Enforcement Coordinator, Victoria Espinel.

ICE yesterday used Homeland Security's notoriously far-reaching domain seizure powers to nab the web site's address, making it impossible to find by most internet users.

This isn't the first time that ICE's activities have sparked a storm of protest. The Department of Homeland Security's hit squad came under fire before Christmas after carrying out a spate of sudden domain seizures.

While a number of the domains seized - including 2009jerseys.com, nfljerseysupply.com, lifetimereplicas.com, and handbag9.com - were web stores offering counterfeit branded goods, at least one search engine has been caught up in the crossfire.

The controversial seizures were greeted with disquiet on this side of the Atlantic too, where they provide a sneak preview of what could happen if plans to force UK registrar Nominet to hand domains over to the police are approved.